I am on a walking break with Peter, who pauses from the monkey bars long enough to ask me a question.
“Are you the one who controls all the adults who work with kids who have a hard time focusing?” I know what he means, and I know why he says it the way that he does. For Peter, who is desperate himself to be in “control” of even his own dark impulses, being an adult is about controlling other people. It’s how he sees his teacher–she’s the one who controls the kids. It’s what makes him think he’d like, one day, to be a teacher himself: to be the person who controls that many other people. He saw me, before the walking break, checking in with one member of my paraprofessional staff, answering her question, thanking her, sending her to the next miracle she needed to perform that day. He’d seen me with others. He had an idea now.
“I don’t see it that way, at all, Peter, but I think I understand the question you’re asking me. The way that the principal is the leader of the teachers like your teacher and me, the way she works with all of us to help us get our jobs done well, yeah, that’s part of the job that I have with the people whose job it is to help kids who have a hard time with their learning or their focusing. I don’t control anybody: we work together. But I guess you could say that it’s my job to lead them.”
As he goes back to the bars, I think a bit. I think about all the current challenges I’m facing, as a leader–all the choices I have to make, the training I deliver, the folks who make it blissfully, collegially easy and the folks who seem to resist, judge, and question every thought I bring to them. I think about last week’s team meeting and how much I cried after it, how desperately hard it is, sometimes, for me to do the part of my job that is grown-ups, not kids. What he sees as control, what he imagines is so satisfying. I’m not sure exactly what prompts me to engage in the conversation that comes next: I realize, even as I start, that I am seeking validation from a source that will not give it.
“It’s a big job, when you think about it, isn’t it?”
“Oh really? What do you think is a really big job?”
“Picking up all of the garbage at Disneyland.”